10.08.2011 POLICY

Parental support initiatives improve literacy of children

A new study produced for the European Commission by independent experts concludes that involving families in literacy programmes is essential to increase the literacy levels of children and adults. The report provides an overview of research and evaluates strategies, policies and initiatives in the field of family literacy, in particular those targeting disadvantaged families. It highlights good practice through case studies of unique and successful initiatives throughout Europe.

The key finding of this report is that family literacy programmes are highly cost-effective, both in improving child literacy and in improving parental support skills. This conclusion is based on a review of six recent meta-analyses of family literacy interventions, all of which found positive effects on child literacy development.

This research found a number of barriers to the success and sustainability of programmes. Programmes should, for instance, be tailored to meet the particular needs of participating groups. Disadvantage is heterogeneous, and initiatives are not necessarily as effective with all types of families.

According to the authors four key factors shape the long-term success of family literacy programmes: funding, programme quality, partnerships, and research-based evidence of success. Some programmes also cited media support as a fifth factor for sustainability. In a number of Member States many good programmes, which took considerable time and resource to develop, have suffered or disappeared because of a dependency on short-term grants which require frequent renewal and are subject to numerous external policy pressures.

The report underlines the importance of comprehensive policies addressing all aspects of childhood. Family literacy tends to be viewed in terms of projects, rather than as an integral part of or complement to the education system. That is why there is a lack of consistent and sustainable family literacy policy.

Reading and learning must be natural and fun but this needs a culture shift within Member States. National programmes require flexibility to meet local and individual family needs.

Child literacy strategies should include a family literacy component. According to the authors of the study 'parents have an active role to play in supporting their children's' learning and development and the home environment is crucial'. This needs to be addressed by governments at national level, but the involvement of local key-players such as childcare institutions, communities and schools is also essential. Family literacy interventions have a relatively large impact on child literacy acquisition as educational interventions have relatively limited impact.

This study also highlights a number of recommendations to enhance and develop family literacy at both European and national level.

Full report